March 31, 2005

"Death of a Salesman"

It is always interesting to read a play. Rather than the nice tidy chapters full of description in a novel, plays are broken into scenes filled with stage directions and dialog. However, this doesn’t make reading a play more difficult. Whenever I read a play I find myself putting on the performance in my mind, complete with costumes, scenery, and overdone dramatics. If you can’t see it in the theater, bring the theater to you.

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller is one of those “classic” plays. Maybe it’s because it is by Miller- everything he does is a “classic”. They could put his name on bottled water and cereal and you’d have crazed English majors running to buy the “classic” goods. Either way, I’m glad to have read such a well-known play. Now when they make Biff references on “Seinfeld”, I’ll know what they are talking about. Ha

What surprised me in the play was the extreme detail in the stage directions. It wasn’t just “Biff moves stage left and looks at Willy” but “Biff solemnly moves towards the left as he gazes helplessly at Willy”. It almost seems like Miller wrote the play to be read as a literary piece as he did for it to be performed. Not only were directions and scenery described well, but also characters actions and, practically, thoughts. The description of Linda on page 12 gives a deep look into her feelings, feelings that the audience would not know just from watching the play.

The flashbacks are a unique element in Death of a Salesman. In plays, sometimes the action is hard to follow because it is not described as well as a novel. Yet there was no confusion with the flashbacks in Death of a Salesman. The flashbacks kept with the flow of the story and were easily understood. Also, they provided both a history of Biff and Willy plus a little foreshadowing. The Woman would not have been included just as another role for a woman and interest of Willy. No, in literature, everyone has a purpose and hers was aiding in the destruction of the wonderful relationship between father and son. The reader (or audience) knows that Willy was likely having an affair with The Woman and also sees that the relationship between Biff and Willy has obviously deteriorated since high school. Piece the two together and one can understand why there are troubles between the two men.

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March 30, 2005

Different People, Different Colors

Race is still such a large issue in society. It has not gone away through the years, but maybe has intensified. The difference is the way we look at race. Now, race is discussed (somewhat) intelligently, with varying viewpoints being addressed. Yet years ago, say in the 1950s and 60s, race was not so civil. People would scream insults and attack other races, just for being different. These feelings are addressed in James McBride's The Color of Water.

One might initially look at the obvious racial issue in the book- a white woman with her black kids. Interracial relationships were not common back when McBride was a boy, so this made his life somewhat interesting. He experienced firsthand just how important race was and how people reacted to differences. Yet there is another race issue within the book. His white Jewish mother with a black man. Now you have an even larger difference between his mother and father. The sections of the book that focused on the mother's childhood were more interesting (to me) than the story of McBride's childhood. Sure, he was black, growing up 60s, with a white mother. Ok. But her story, of being Jewish and having to fight to live the life she wanted was the more compelling tale. It addressed race in a larger way. There is the white/black conflict, white/Jewish conflict, black/Jewish conflict. It provided many insights into how race is involved in all elements of one's life, but we must overcome them.

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March 21, 2005

As If There Was Ever Any Doubt...

Per the the Commonly Confused Words Test I am an English Genius. That's right, genius. I've known it all along...ha.

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March 18, 2005

It's My Party and I'll Cry if I Want To

So I'm just going along, reading "The Garden Party" by Katherine Mansfield, more or less enjoying the story. I'm just about to turn the page to see how Laura responds to "Isn't it, darling?" when...nothing. The story is over. Who ends a story with a question like that?

Mansfield apparently, and rightly so. I don't think "The Garden Party" was lacking anything; nothing should be changed. Laura didn't need to have some life altering experience or completely abandon her aristocratic ways. It wouldn't have been real or true to life at all. I can imagine Laura, worrying about all the troubles, pushing them aside to think "Oh well" and go on with her life. That was how she was raised, that was what she was taught. Although Laura was perched on the edge of a total turnaround, she didn't take the final jump. She knew, that in the back of her mind, that her life really was better and she should just appreciate it once and for all. She put the blinders back on and went into her sheltered world again. That is what someone in her position would have done then and, honestly, I might have too.

I'm not really sure I agree with Foster's take on the story though. Demeter? Persephone? The underworld? I didn't get any of that! I can see his arguments for the underworld, with the dark images and view of another place, but I can't put the Greek connection together. To me, that's a bit of a stretch. Sorry.

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March 17, 2005

Punctuation at Its Finest

I’m guilty of almost every one of the punctuation elements Truss describes. I use the dash relentlessly, put ellipsis after several sentences, quote random words and, yes, even use the semicolon, although not as regularly as I’d like.

I’m really not very big on the semicolon, yet I’ll find myself using it in the appropriate situation. As Truss mentioned, using a semicolon really is “pulling out all the stops”. Since the semicolon is used so little using one is almost like saying to the reader, “Oh yeah, that’s right. I know grammar and I’m not afraid to use it.” I have had friends ask me for help with papers and stare blankly when I return it to them full of commas, periods, and the elusive semicolon. “What’s that for? Can’t you just use a comma?” they ask. I suppose the reason semicolons are looked at as a thing to be marveled is because so few know how to really use them. It can be confusing to some, I suppose. A dot and a comma. Oh dear.

I’ve noticed I also have the habit of quoting words (see above). As Truss explained, quotes are “sometimes used by fastidious writers as a kind of linguistic rubber glove, distancing them from vulgar words or clichés they are too refined to use in the normal way.” I mean, I don’t want people to think I actually said that, right? Actually, my quoting is not fully structured on my shame of using certain phrases. I find myself putting quotes around odd or unfamiliar words more than anything. I just wrote an essay and quoted “Americanization” the first time I mentioned it. I don’t exactly know why I felt I needed to quote the word, it isn’t all that unusual after all, but I did. Something deep inside my mind drives me to quote.

Now onto my love affair with the dash. Dashes, although Truss finds them a bit overused, may be one of my favorite punctuation marks. There is something special about using a dash instead of a comma when writing. It isn’t as formal as a semicolon yet more interesting than a plain ‘ol comma. And, as Truss mentioned, you can’t get it wrong. When in doubt, use a dash. Wonderfully theory to live, and write, by.

When I was in grade school I learned that I shouldn’t use parenthesis in my writing because it was not “mature” (here I go quoting again) enough. The ones signaling a date or documentation were fine but all the others must go. Whatever needed to be said in the parenthesis simply had to be enclosed in commas, put in another sentence, or thrown out all together. I don’t really know why I remember my teacher telling me this but the idea certainly stuck. I hardly ever, save informal writing like blogging or other, use parenthesis. I just stick the idea into a comma or forget about the aside all together. I suppose I agree with that teacher- it does make papers look less mature.

I’m an ellipses person. Look back through almost any of my other posts and some of my comments and you’ll find those famous three dots. I don’t use ellipsis much in formal papers but very often in informal writing like blogging. I enjoy “trailing off in an intriguing manner.” Three dots can convey so much! They can make a statement sarcastic, witty, funny, or mysterious. Once you start, it really is hard to stop.

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March 11, 2005

Becoming Barbie (or Ken)

You’ve thought about it. Admit it. In today’s society, littered with plastic surgery shows on nearly every network, you’ve thought about what you would change if you could. The shows make it look so easy too- just a snip here, a tuck there, and in four to six weeks you’re looking fabulous. Yet I’ve also seen the shows that really show the surgeries for what they are- medical procedures. Cutting the forehead to raise the eyebrows, exposing bone, blood and such everywhere. Not exactly as wonderful as we might like to believe. And, with anything, there are risks and botched procedures. I’m not talking noses looking like a Picasso painting but mistakes that are certainly not the desired result.

So what would you do? Here’s the situation: what would you do, plastic or cosmetic surgery wise, if you could? Money isn’t an issue, neither are risks. Everything works out fine. How far would you go?

Personally, I wouldn’t do much. I figure this is what I look like, why change it? Now, this isn’t to say there isn’t a lot I would like to alter, but really, I wouldn’t. Yet if I could pick anything I would have my teeth whitened and get Lasik surgery on my eyes. And if I were older with wrinkles I’d probably have my eyelids done. That’s it though. (When I asked my friends what they thought they had a few other choice selections for me. That’s when I kindly told them to shut up. Ha)

So really, dish. Want to change everything or nothing? No risks, no worries, no nothing. How far would you go to be perfect?

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It's Really Not That Hard People

I love how Truss can take an apostrophe and a comma and turn it into a humorous, interesting, and surprisingly long section of a book.

The section on “its” vs. “it’s” definitely hit a cord with me. Last year I fixed countless copy mistakes dealing with those two words. I stood in front of the classroom yelling “With the apostrophe- plural. Without- ownership!” yet people still made the mistake. I’m not sure if I just didn’t get through to them or if the concept is truly that hard. Maybe I should have tattooed it to their hands…

Being an English major people naturally expect me to know everything about the language and grammar. Yet I’m not ashamed to admit that I certainly do not and have learned from Eats, Shoots, and Leaves. (I like to give my friends the smart response of, “I don’t know! That’s why I’m in college!” whenever I’m asked something I do not know.) I really never paid attention to the apostrophes, or lack there of, in amounts of time such as “one week’s pay” or “two weeks’ notice”. I thought the title of the movie was just fine.

Now onto commas. Ah commas, how I love thee. How I sprinkle thee all over my papers, into virtually every sentence I compose. Without the comma, I don’t know what I would do. Seriously. I’ve noticed that in my papers nearly every sentence contains at least one comma. There is just something so right to be about attaching thoughts together with a simple little mark. When I help edit a friend’s paper I inevitably add them into run-on sentences and wonder why they can’t appreciate the comma as I do. For a while though, I’m almost ashamed to admit, I abandoned the comma in favor of the dash. Now, I still a good dash and use it frequently. Yet in tenth grade my teacher told me how much she liked the dash over the ‘ol comma and I, aiming to please, converted to The Church of the Dash. However, the dash is not as versatile as the comma and I eventually went back to my old friend. Because, seriously, how many times can you put a dash in a paper?

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March 4, 2005

Grammar Panda

I am so glad we are reading humorous books in this class. Just goes to show- English doesn't have to be so stuffy all the time. First Foster and now this?

Eats, Shoot, and Leaves by Lynne Truss is wonderful. I didn’t think I could laugh at a book about grammar. Yet her writing style, combined with the ever enchanting British humor just cracked me up.

I must say, I feel for Truss and her annoyance with grammar. While I don’t go around looking for store signs and attack them with a marker, I do cringe a little when “books” is spelled “book’s” in the paper or television. I wonder, don’t these people have editors? And if not, will they hire me? I suppose that was why I was the yearbook copy editor last year- I can dish out the commas.

I am also always correcting my friends’ speech. It is amazing to me how many people speak incorrectly. I am constantly yelling, “What? ‘You don’t have no books’? No….”. Although, I am sure my friends thank God every night for me doing that though…right.

Now while I did not go to a British school in the 1960s, I do agree that grammar is not really taught in schools. I’m sure a learned all about commas and semicolons along the line somewhere but I was never sat down and shown exactly how this language of ours works. Some things are not just instinctive- I can show some of my old papers with red Xs on them to prove it.

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March 2, 2005

El Portfolio

Ah, time for another collection of my best works from this semester. The hard part is- what to put in? They are all so good...ha.


"A Good Man is Hard to Find". That's For Sure...- My take on Flannery O'Conner's short story.

It Didn't Make Me Laugh- Denis T. Askin's article on the O'Conner story

Warming Up- Jack London's classic story "To Build a Fire"

Article- Short entry on a very difficult academic article

"The Machine Stops"- My amazingly brillant insights on the short story

Poetry- Thoughts on a collection of several poems

Prufrock- Long hard poem

V-Day Special- Poems appropriately assigned on Valentine's Day

Life and Death with the Raven- No, not that poem

Disfigurements and Blindness- All in the Name of Literature- A look at one of the many insightful chapters of Foster's book

Tempest- My beginning thoughts on the famous play

Ever Heard of Courtship Will?- Sometimes Shakespeare rushes into things

"The Tempest"- A Lovely Poem- "Tempest", blank verse style

Wrapping It All Up- "The Tempest"- Another look at Shakespeare's work

Shakespeare's Religion- Does religion matter?

The Same Story Over and Over- Academic atricles on "The Tempest"

Poor Miranda- Sexism? Feminism? It's all about Miranda

Different Opinion- Everyone sees the play differently I suppose


Comment Mania:
Chris- Read Between the Lines- To Build a Fire
Chris- Tick-tock, tick-tock...
Chris- Shake Up The Tempest II (A blank verse comment too!)
Moira- The Comedy of Tragedy
Valerie- The Tempest, Acts I and II
Kristen- Response to Beauregard's article


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March 1, 2005

Different Opinion

For every argument one can find a counter argument. Keeps things interesting. In Harold Bloom’s article he makes some arguments against topics previously looked at in The Tempest.

The first thing that struck me was Bloom’s declaration that the play is in fact a comedy. In class (and in my blog) Dr. Jerz informed us that The Tempest is a romance. Now, I laughed a few times while reading the play, but maybe that was just my odd sense of humor. However, just because I laughed doesn’t make it a comedy any more than crying would make it a tragedy. Bloom does not provide adequate examples to support The Tempest being a comedy.

I also noted that Bloom said, “…Shakespeare takes considerable care to exclude Christian references from The Tempest”. Now, I distinctly recall reading articles that argued that Shakespeare did include Christian references in the play, especially Catholic ones. Then he wrote about the god-like image that Prospero has in the play. So first Shakespeare didn’t have any Christian elements but then Prospero is a god? I just wasn’t following.

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Poor Miranda

It is always amazing that there are so many different interpretations of just one play. After awhile you would think that everyone would have run out of ideas on The Tempest and just leave it be. But nooo.

“The Miranda Trap” by Lorie Jerrell Leininger takes a look at the sexism in The Tempest. As I’ve noticed in another article I read for my research paper, Prospero is extremely controlling to his acquaintances, especially Miranda (and Ariel and Caliban, but this is not important here). As Leininger noted in her essay, “Hers is not to reason why, hers but to follow directions”. Miranda is not supposed to object to her father or questions his intentions- she is merely to go along with whatever he says, as demurely and virginally as he expects. Prospero even goes so far as to call Miranda a “foot”, a part of the body that does not contradict the head but strictly does what it says.

Leininger also notes that Miranda’s real purpose to Prospero is to just to be his virginal little daughter and nothing more. “Miranda is deprived of any possibility of human freedom, growth or thought. She need only be chaste- to exist as a walking emblem of chastity”. Yet is that all Miranda is really good for in the play? To be chaste? If this is the case, why have a Miranda character at all. Perhaps to show the cold personality of Prospero. By limiting Miranda’s input and seeing her only as a chaste innocent thing the reader learns that Prospero is not some wonderful being but is just a controlling parent. It takes away from his “mystique” and makes Prospero more like the rest of the characters- both good and evil.

This feminist view of The Tempest also questions whether Shakespeare was in fact sexist. Does he dislike women and therefore creates them only to be mere virginal characters like Miranda? We’ve debated this in class and (to me) the answer is a resounding “no”. Looking at other Shakespeare plays one can see a strong female influence, although it might not always be the best. I don’t think Miranda was written in her innocent way because of Shakespeare’s sexism but instead to show Prospero’s real character.

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Just to Note...

On my previous entries people told me to just let it out already. So here it goes:

To those drivers who insist on passing me on the way home when it is snowing out- I don't have a bloody four-wheel drive! I have an Escort. It is about this big [ ] and has a tendency to slide around due to the size. I have already been in an accident and don't wish to be in another one. I'm also not an experienced driver. So pardon me for going about 20 down the road but I'd rather not crash into the guardrail. Thank you.

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